An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

Surprise Convert

My brother Dooby developed contempt for Mormonism from his childhood experience with active Mormons including our stepmother, who indulged a grudge against him, and our dad, who was blind to the pain his son suffered. Dooby extended his feelings about Mormonism to all religions and enjoyed making atheist statements which shocked our relatives. His first marriage to a devout Mormon ended in divorce, and Doob vowed to do everything possible to undermine the Mormon beliefs of his children.

Dooby’s influence with his daughters’ belief system was minimal. Eventually, he married Kato, a practicing Buddhist, began practicing meditation and yoga, and spoke against religion less frequently.  Despite his mellowing, I never expected Dooby to become a believing Christian.

Maybe, I should have seen it coming. A few years ago Dooby decided he needed a Bible since literature is so full of biblical illusions. Then he began advocating for Intelligent Design to be taught in public school science classes. I believed his interest in the issue was mostly political and found it odd to be arguing against Intelligent Design with a confirmed agnostic. Still, Doob surprised me when he said he was taking instruction in Catholicism.

“I’ve been looking for a church for awhile. I knew I couldn’t attend one that had cars with Obama stickers in the parking lot, so the Unitarians were out. I checked out the parking lot at St. Olaf’s, saw no bumper stickers, and went in.”

After a year of instruction, Dooby was baptized. “They made me a deal I couldn’t refuse. When they said I would be forgiven for all my sins, for every bad thing I’ve ever done, and go to Heaven when I died, I was in. I did think about getting a load of Viagra and committing a bunch more sins first, but Kato said with a load of Viagra I might not live long enough to get baptized.”

Dooby didn’t rush into his baptism decision. After a year of instruction, he understands the doctrine and traditions to which he has committed. Catholicism seems to be working for Dooby. He likes and respects his priest and the parishioners he has met. He is currently dealing with his recent cancer diagnosis and treatment with reasonable serenity.

I suspect the early teaching in religion Dooby received from our mother and from Jr. Sunday School and Primary kicked in. I rather think God is pleased that Doob is receiving peace from the Catholic fold. Surely, an all-knowing God knows that not all people respond to the same faith tradition.

Please Raise My Kids If I Die

My brother Dooby and I found our dad’s will while snooping through his closet a couple of years after our mother died. We learned that Dad had willed us to Uncle Duemore and Aunt Prudence. Uncle Duemore was Dad’s responsible older brother and business partner—and even less fun-loving than our dad. Their family never went on vacations. Our cousins spent Saturday mornings and all summer vacation doing household chores. Not a life we cared to share.

 As an adult I understand Dad’s logic. His parents were too old and ill to raise grandkids in the event of his demise. On our mother’s side of the family, Grandma Gryper lived with Aunt Loosey and crippled Aunt Arta. Aunt Loosey was a single mom with no job who eked out a living by milking cows on what was left of the family farm. She and Grandma lacked even the most rudimentary housekeeping skills and had no money sense. We would have had love, but lacked such necessities as clean clothes and regular meals. It would have been fun while it lasted, but they would have blown through Dad’s financial assets within a year.

Dooby and I thought Dad should have left us to Aunt Charity and Uncle Happy. They took their kids on vacations to California or Yellowstone every year and went camping every weekend. Living with them would be a vast improvement over life with our workaholic dad. As kids, we didn’t realize that Aunt Charity’s health was too poor to take on a larger family—and that their camp trailer didn’t have room for three extra kids.

Fortunately, Dad did not die and leave us orphaned. Throughout my kids’ childhood I fear what might happen to them should we die. George’s parents were deceased. My stepmother disliked me and my children. None of our siblings was in a position to take care of our kids.

I’m sure I never spoke to my kids about this fear, but our daughter Lolly inherited it. She and Doc decided to appoint guardians for their four kids in the event of accidental death. Doc’s parents were in poor health, so he wanted his brother and sister-in-law, who had four kids of their own, to take on the job. Being a man, Doc has no idea that few women would be delighted to double the size of her family with kids not her own. Lolly was more realistic and asked my opinion.

Neither George nor I are spring chickens, but I said that in the event of a tragedy, we could move close to one of her sisters and care for the kids jointly. A mother’s sister with no children is more likely to give kids the love they need than a sister-in-law with her own family. Lolly hesitated. She knew the kids would be taken to church every Sunday with her in-laws. Our daughters and we are freethinkers, but would not undermine their parents’ wishes.

In my book, love is more essential to a child’s well-being than regular church attendance. I’ve never dared ask about Lolly and Doc’s final decision. I just pray for their health and well-being.

Sabbath Sense

This week’s Religion & Ethics Newsweekly featured MaryAnn McKibban Dana, a Presbyterian minister and mother of three young children.  A few years ago, Rev. McKibban Dana, like many working mothers, felt great pressure from the demands of her job and her family. She needed a day of rest from work and other busyness to spend time with her family. Obviously, Sunday is not a day of rest for a pastor, so she and her husband designated Saturday as their Sabbath—a day when they turn off the television, computer, and cell phones, avoid shopping, and spend time restoring themselves.

Their Sabbath is not overtly religious. Family activities include taking their children on nature walks in a nearby state park, playing games, and cooking together. She and her husband renew themselves by doing things they and their children enjoy.

I couldn’t help comparing this family’s Sabbath with Mormon Family Home Evenings—a program consistently emphasized by the Church for the past half century. Constant admonishments from Church leaders for parents to hold FHE, comments from friends, and our own experience on Monday evenings cause me to believe the program has been less than successful. The problem with Mormon FHE is the formal structure outlined: Father presiding, opening song, opening prayer, discussion of family matters, lesson, closing prayer, refreshments. After spending three hours in meetings on Sunday, do Mormon families need another Church meeting on Monday evenings?

Mormons place great emphasis on formal instruction. Besides the three-hour block on Sunday, they send high school students to daily seminary classes, schedule semi-annual general conferences with four two- hour sessions, semi-annual two-hour Priesthood and Relief Society conferences, semi-annual two-hour stake conferences—usually with extra sessions for youth and for adults, and quarterly stake priesthood meetings.

If all this formal instruction were effective, it seems unlikely the Church would be experiencing a retention problem, or second apostasy as Elder Marlin K. Jensen termed it. Mormon parents are admonished to teach their children the gospel, and teaching for Mormons involves one person presenting information while others sit with arms folded—and ideally, mouths shut.

Values are most often transmitted by actions rather than words. When our oldest son entered high school, we often spent Monday evenings at the city library where he and his 7th grade sister did homework research (this was in the age before home computers) and the younger kids selected new books.  Why don’t Church leaders encourage Mormon parents to simply turn off the TV, computer, and phones on Monday evenings and interact in whatever ways are meaningful to their family?

Divorce or Work It Out?

Callie and Bret were married at age 17, not because they were in love, but because she was pregnant. Seventeen years and three additional children later, they are divorcing. Their finances are a mess. Callie’s health is poor. Some of the children are in therapy, and Bret is trying to make up for missing out on his carefree teen years. Pregnancy is not a good reason for marriage, and staying together for years of desperate unhappiness serves no one well.

Callie and Bret are only one of several couples I know who have divorced after years of unhappiness. Geniel waited until the last of her six children was grown before leaving her husband. Years of living in a household of sniper warfare has divided the children into two camps. Geniel sacrificed to keep her children in a two-parent home, but three of her children side with their father and have cut her out of their lives.

Bibi and Bill met the Mormon marriage pattern—BYU students from good families who marry in the temple following his mission. Apparently, Bibi and Bill’s courtship didn’t include discussing details such as how many children they wanted, where they would live, who would make decisions, and what kind of help each was willing to do to keep a family afloat. Eight years of counseling did not help them resolve differences.

After 20 years of bickering and blaming, an explosive argument ended their marriage. Bibi married a man who is paying child support for his six children. They uprooted her children from schools, neighborhood, and grandparents to move to his city. I fear the ruptured family, the move, and possible conflict with a stepparent make her kids vulnerable to negative influences outside the home.

Fasting, praying, attending the temple, and reading scriptures don’t always resolve marital differences—nor do they protect children from the harm of a warzone home life. Of course, divorce should not be undertaken lightly. It hurts children—but so does living in a home with perpetual conflict between parents. Is it wise to counsel desperately unhappy couples to stay together and add children to a family that will likely split apart?

In Spite Of

“I know what would help the air pollution during inversions,” Cousin Ralph told George. “Close down BYU and the U and keep all those cars from going up there.” Cousin Ralph is only one of our relatives who spouts wisdom that causes us to shake our heads.

Another relative who hates hippies and environmentalists is on a one-man crusade for the repeal of the 19th Amendment. “Giving women the vote caused all these bleeding-heart social programs that are killing the economy.”

My brother, Dooby, insists that Intelligent Design should be taught in science classes. In his eyes, evolution is  liberal propaganda, and implying an Intelligent Designer does not cross the boundary of teaching religion in the public schools.

Cousin Krafti has poof the birth certificate President Obama produced is a fake. She emailed me her evidence of his true birthplace: A photo of a dirt road with a hand-lettered sign naming a village in Kenya. Underneath the name it reads, “Birthplace of Barack Obama.”

Our niece, Rudi, regularly blasts anyone on Facebook who posts anything supportive of aid to the poor.

Because we love our relatives, we try not to argue with them about their political beliefs which are more sacred to them than religion. If we do offer our own thoughts, our relatives roll their eyes and barely suppress smirks. Obviously, they feel the same way about our opinions as we do about theirs.

We like our friends because they are bright enough to think the way we do. We love our family despite their delusions. Apparently, they feel the same way about us.

Christmas Shopping Lite

“I spent an hour buying Christmas presents for my five nephews and had a great time,” Wort, our oldest son said. Finding five gifts for boys of different ages in an hour sounded unbelievable to me until I realized that Wort had done his shopping online—probably all at Amazon. He simply had to click on a page for boys of each age, make his selection, choose gift wrapping and free shipping—and he was done. Joys of the 21st century!

Buying toys for kids is pretty fun. Almost anything makes them happy. Adults are a different matter. Unless recipients are on the brink of financial disaster, giving adults a gift they really want is nigh impossible. For a person who hates shopping as much as I do, it’s a misery. I finally decided that if I can’t give gifts which delight my offspring, at least I should give them something I enjoy buying.

I hate shopping for anything except groceries (love to eat), books, and nursery plants. Groceries as Christmas gifts only work for starving college students. December is way too cold to plant tomatoes, so my only choice is books. Although I try, I don’t always succeed in choosing titles the kids are anxious to read, but at least I’m supporting a depressed industry.

Even better than buying books is gifting the person who has everything with a charitable donation in their name. This year Aroo and Biker are getting a goat from us which will go to a family in the developing world. Techie and Techie II are also giving us an animal through Heifer.

For several years my brother Dooby and I have donated to the Seattle Rescue Mission for our gift-giving. I might have chosen the Nature Conservancy for my gift, but Dooby is a rabid anti-environmentalist. “Let’s give some homeless bums a good meal,” were his words. I wouldn’t phrase it quite that way, but I do feel good about our choice—and it sure beats shopping!  

Faith Promoting Stories–Not

Mormons are admonished to record their life stories and those of relatives—the objective being to create a series of faith-promoting episodes to inspire ensuing generations. The problem with recording life stories in my family is that none of them is very faith-promoting. Take my Uncle Duemore. Even in my work-oriented family, Uncle Duemore was unusual. At the time he was running a grocery store, 15 hours a day, six days a week, Uncle Duemore bought a cement mixer and decided to build a cabin in his spare time (Sunday).

Eleven p.m. on Saturday nights found him heading up Provo Canyon in a pickup truck loaded with the cement mixer, bacon, eggs, and beans—and my dad, my brother, and 10-year-old cousin. Uncle D and Dad spent all day Sunday pouring cement for the cabin foundation or mixing mortar for the cinder block walls. Their BB gun-toting sons spent the Sabbath shooting porcupines.

The cabin was finished in two summers, but Uncle D continued to spend Sundays pouring concrete around the cabin from early spring until winter’s first snow. He built a concrete woodshed to store logs felled from the hill where he cemented a staircase to the top and poured a concrete slab for a porch swing with a great view.

When he ran out of room on his property, my uncle bought the adjoining lot and created solid concrete picnic tables and benches beneath the trees. “Nobody will run off with my tables and benches,” he boasted. Oddly enough, the only part of the lot he didn’t pave was the basketball court which consisted of packed earth and was unusable during spring thaw and summer rainstorms.

Aunt Prudence supported her husband’s cabin projects. They kept him away from home where, after retirement, he used cement in creative landscaping projects. Most people use bark or colored gravel to keep weeds down in perennial borders. The iris and peonies in Uncle D’s front yard sprouted and bloomed from within small circles of concrete groundcover.

The Church was probably better off with Uncle Duemore spending Sundays on the mountain. No telling what he and his cement mixer might have done to the ward grounds had he become active.

Happiest Grandmother

For me, the most challenging part of life as a grandmother is taking care of newborns in a household with a 2-year-old. In August, two weeks spent helping my son and daughter-in-law move and get settled in while a second baby attempted a way-too-early arrival made me realize the need for better skills in dealing with toddlers.

In preparation for the return visit when the full term baby arrives—and for the other expected grandchild coming soon to a family with a 2-year-old and a not quite 4-year-old, I have been reading The Happiest Toddler on the Block by Harvey Karp, a pediatrician with a sense of humor. 

According to Karp, the right brain that controls impulses and emotions is more developed than the logical left brain until about age four. Therefore, living with a toddler is much like living with a small Neanderthal. They don’t understand long sentences, complex explanations, or much logic. Karp has found that little cavemen-toddlers respond much better to gesture, claps, even growls than to reasoning.  

I skipped to the part on dealing with tantrums, but found Karp’s writing style so engaging I went back and read the whole thing. Mary Poppins I’m not, but I now feel better prepared to handle the granny-nanny situations in my immediate future.

This time when a granddaughter balks, I will get on her eye level and speak toddler-ese. I will repeat back her desires in my best fast food attendant manner, “You no want diaper changed?” I will use rewards judiciously, “Eat one goldfish while diaper changed. More goldfish after diaper changed.”  I will not pound my head against the wall and swear under my breath while granddaughter’s screams wake the baby. I will not wear out my pocket calendar counting the days until my departure.

And They Lived Happily Ever After

I don’t think R-rated movies damage kids nearly as much as fairy-tale romances portrayed in books and film. For example:  Mr. Darcy’s sad life of wealth and ease is enriched when he woos and wins the saucy Elizabeth Bennett—and rescues her from a future life of poverty. A prostitute (who looks like Julia Roberts) finds happiness with a john who turns out to be a lonely, well-heeled businessman (and looks like Richard Gere).

Americans grow up with the idea that finding the right person is the secret to a happy life. Still, very few paragons of perfections are available to choose as marriage partners. Most of us have to make do.

Terrell Dougan, in a wise and witty piece on Huffington Post, details how she perfected her husband. Find it here. It’s worth a read whether you married your dream mate or not.



Back to Work Bliss

Our oldest daughter, Lolly, got her first paid job in ten years this week. Her youngest started all day kindergarten this year and friends and neighbors were still asking Lolly to tend their kids while they went to doctor appointments or visiting teaching.

Rather than become an unpaid day care center, Lolly applied for a part-time job as a GED prep teacher. She is currently in a flurry of shopping (without a preschooler in tow), for a wardrobe beyond jeans and T-shirts.

I understand how she feels. While I know lovely women who build their lives entirely around home, family, and church—that gene missed my family. My mother and grandmother worked in our family grocery store. My other grandmother, a wretched housekeeper, was handy with a hay rake on the family ranch. Much as I loved my children, I felt as liberated as an East German watching the Berlin Wall fall when I dropped my youngest son off at kindergarten.

Lolly doesn’t need a paycheck to make ends meet for her family, but she does need worthwhile work outside her home to stimulate her mind and give her a feeling of accomplishment—an identity not dependent on her role as wife and mother. The world of paid work offers her that.

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